The southern Andean city of Pasto is somewhat off-the-radar for most travellers in Colombia, who often see the city as nothing more than a stop-off before crossing the nearby Ecuador border. However, Pasto has a rich history and culture and is surrounded by stunning Andean nature, and there’s easily enough to see and do to warrant staying for a few days.
Take a trip to La Cocha Lake
The huge lake of La Cocha is located less than an hour from Pasto and is the perfect place for a day-trip to get away from the city. You can take a boat tour out to several beauty spots around the lake – including La Corota Island, Colombia’s smallest protected area – and then sample some delicious fresh trout dishes in a lakeside restaurant.
Climb Cumbal Volcano
The largest volcano in southern Colombia is located just outside of Pasto, and climbing it is one of the most exciting and extreme activities you can enjoy on a trip to the city. On a clear day, you can even see the distant Pacific Ocean from the summit! It’s not an easy climb to attempt solo, so make sure to try it with a guide.
Visit Colombia’s most beautiful church
Las Lajas Sanctuary is often called Colombia’s most beautiful church, and has even popped up on lists of the world’s most beautiful churches! It’s located just outside of the small border town of Ipiales and can be visited easily enough on a full day trip from Pasto. And it really is highly recommended that you visit: even if you think you’ve seen a thousand churches, you’ve never seen one like Las Lajas.
Try a plate of cuy
Cuy – or Guinea Pig – is a typical dish of the southern Colombian Andes and not one you will find in any other major Colombian city. So if you fancy sampling the unusual local delicacy, you’ll have to make sure to seek it out in a Pasto restaurant.
The Blacks and Whites Carnival
Pasto’s annual Carnaval de Blancos y Negros – or Blacks and Whites Carnival – is one of Colombia’s most famous and celebrated traditional festivals. Taking place in early January, the festival is a riot of colour and raucous parades, as locals wear both black and white makeup on consecutive days, a practice designed to highlight the racial diversity of the region.
Visit the Carnival Museum
If you are unable to travel to Pasto in January but still want to learn more about Pasto’s most important cultural celebration then you can pay a visit to the Carnival Museum. Centrally located, with exhibits of traditional carnival costumes, the museum will tell you everything you need to know about the history and traditions of carnival in Pasto.
Visit the green lake of Azufral Volcano
The stunning green lake of Azufral Volcano is one of the most surreal and beautiful natural wonders of Colombia and is an extremely popular day-trip from Pasto. The hike through the mountains to reach the lake – formed by sulphurous emissions from Azufral Volcano – is a tough one, but it’s easily worth the effort for the sight of the stunning lake deep in the southern Andes.
Explore the historic centre of Pasto
Pasto’s historic centre is home to some spectacular old colonial architecture, and a number of beautiful churches, old houses, and museums. Among the highlights are Narino Square, the Pasto Cathedral, the Narino government building, San Felipe Church, and many more important churches and museums.
Hike in the Galeras Flora and Fauna Sanctuary
This protected high-altitude Andean sanctuary is one of the most important protected ecosystems in southern Colombia and is the ideal day-trip from Pasto for anyone with a love of nature and the great outdoors. Dominated by the imposing Galeras Volcano, the reserve protects important paramo ecosystems as well as almost 200 species of birds.
Visit the Taminango Museum
The Taminango Museum (or Taminango Museum of Arts and Popular Traditions of Narino, to give its full name) is housed in a beautiful building which was declared a National Monument in 1971. Focusing on the traditional artisan products from the department of Narino, the museum is not very well-known but a fascinating insight into the region’s cultural heritage.